Beauty by Nicola Rinaldi via Flickr
Beauty by Nicola Rinaldi via Flickr

Copyright © Galina Pembroke, 2009.

Why beauty comes from within

From tradition to trends, there’s always been a secret knowledge of the parallel between good health and beauty. The oldest of this knowledge may be found in the ancient science of Ayurvedic medicine.

Youth ends at 60

Dr. Scott Gerson, medical director of the National Institute of Ayurvedic medicine, writes that “According to Ayurveda, youth ends at 60. ” This contrasts dramatically with television images showing youthful vigor declining after 30. Isn’t this youthful vigor a measure of beauty? In Ayurvedic medicine, the key to this outer radiance is internal balance.

Part of this balance is obtaining health of both mind and body. The first step in attaining this goal is through detoxification. The Ayurvedic term for this is pancha karma. Generally this is aided or performed by clinical ayurvedic specialists. The treatments usually consist of a warm oil massage, special cleansing diets, lots of pure fresh water, breathing practices and meditation. After gaining basic knowledge of these steps through an ayurvedic specialist, we are encouraged to regularly use basic Ayurvedic grooming techniques. These consist of massaging oil to the body, bathing daily, rubbing the body with herbal bath powder and applying oil to scalp.

Massage is an essential component in Ayurvedic medicine, and the addition of herbal extracts and essential oils increases its already impressive healing capacities. According to Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, author of A Woman’s Best Medicine (New York: Tarcher/Putnam) the benefits of herbalized oil massage include the following: “Improving circulation in the body, providing a purifying and cleansing influence to the physiology, increasing the secretion of hormones from the skin and maintaining the suppleness and youthfulness of the skin.”

The Ayurvedic diet also aids in keeping us youthful and vibrant. The Ayurvedic diet is rich in disease-killing antioxidants, as it encourages eating many fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants also protect the cells. This is important to maintaining beauty, since cellular death is responsible for both the inner and outer effects of the aging process.

Thriving during menopause

For a portion of women, one of the biggest traumas during aging is menopause. Yet, as Dr. Sharon Lieberman reminds us in her book Get off the Menopause Roller Coaster (Arizona: Avery books), “menopause is not a disease.” In fact, the methods we use to ease ourselves through this transition may aid in improved health and enhanced beauty.

Along with proper diet and exercise, the most pivotal of these methods is supplement use. Since estrogen-loss is responsible for the unpleasant symptoms of menopause, considering replacing this estrogen is worthwhile. Yet conventional Hormone Replacement Therapy is dubious in its side effects. Thankfully we have other options. “For most people black cohosh and chasteberry work really well for menopause, and if you add some ginseng it can really help,’ says Dr. Lieberman. “Black cohosh is completely safe and effective.” We can trust our source. Besides being an author, Dr. Lieberman has a Ph.D in Clinical Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and is the recipient  of the National Nutritional Foods Association 2003 Clinician of the Year Award. The positive effects of black cohosh extend beyond its estrogen balancing abilities. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, black cohosh is one of the herbs that prevent premature aging and hair loss. Dried rehmannia and Chinese yam are other examples.

“The other herb that I love is Ginseng,” reveals Dr. Lieberman. “Ginseng  is a wonderful supplement for women to take, and it helps  control hot flashes.”  Remarking on the power of Ginseng, Dr. Lieberman says: “It’s one of the few herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine that’s actually used alone. Most Traditional Chinese Medicine is taken as a formula, but the strength and adaptability of ginseng is sufficient enough to merit its independence. Ginseng is an adaptogen. Adaptogens are aptly named, as they adapt to a broad range of problems. They achieve this by facilitating overall balance. For example, ginseng has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes. Yet if you have normal blood sugar but are stressed, ginseng will lessen tension without dramatically dropping blood sugar. Other studies, quoted in The Merck Manual of Medical Information, suggest that ginseng also increases HDL (healthy) cholesterol.

Ginseng is also aids in attractiveness. “Ginseng has long been used by men and women as an anti-aging tonic,” says Dr. Lieberman. “It’s  great for your hair, skin and nails.”  Though ginseng is completely safe, it’s important to select the best quality. Dr. Lieberman suggests Panax ginseng, because it’s the most widely studied. She also advises choosing 8 percent ginsenosides (the active ingredient in ginseng).

For those who prefer traditional western methods, Dr. Lieberman says: “If you take nothing else take a good multivitamin and multimineral complex.” Specifically, she suggests a “4-6 a day multivitamin/multimineral, since you’re not going to get what you need through food anyway.”

De-Stress Through Diet

If you want to slow down the aging process, lessen stress. In 2004 a study at the University of California at San Francisco found that chronic stress appears to hasten the shriveling of the tips of the bundles of genes inside cells. This in turn shortens their life span and speeds the body’s deterioration.  Popular methods of stress reduction include meditation and exercise, even caffeine reduction. But a complete overhaul of diet?

Amanda Geary, founder of the UK’s Food and Mood Project, thinks this is a splendid solution. The Food and Mood Project recruited 200 individuals between the ages of 26 and 55 who lived in London or SE England. They found that the effects of diet on stress were substantial. Says Geary: “From the Food and Mood Survey results, those using this form of self-help found that cutting down or avoiding potential food stressors like sugar (80%), caffeine (79%), alcohol (55%) and chocolate (53%) and having more food supporters like water (80%), vegetables (78%), fruit (72%) and oil rich fish (52%) had the most beneficial effects on mental health.”

A side effect of this stress-less eating is that it improves overall health. We’ve been meaning to eat more veggies and drink more water anyway. Eating oil rich fish may be a different matter. This is a low priority for most, and the controversy over contamination may be keeping us away from the tuna aisles. Thankfully, the essential fatty acids-omega 3’s in particular- that are responsible for the mood elevating effects of fish come from other sources. Flaxseed, for example, is superior to fish in its quantity of omega 3’s. Dark leafy green vegetables and walnuts also contain linolenic acid that the body converts to the same type of omega-3 found in fish.

Omega 3’s are most active in the tissues of the blood vessels, immune system, eyes and skin. Due to this, regardless of why you initially take omega 3’s you’ll receive the side benefit of healthier skin. Udo Erasmus, author of Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill (Burnaby: Alive Books) describes essential fatty acids as “natures perfect moisturizer.” Why? When we have the right amount of omega 3’s they help our skin form a barrier against moisture loss.

Beauty may seem like a dubious motivation for keeping healthy, but it’s a definite consequence. We may not want to throw out our beauty creams just yet, but we need to acknowledge that they’re most effective when applied to a healthy body.

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Galina Pembroke was an internationally published writer specializing in health. She passed away on September 12, 2009 at the young age of 34 after a very brief illness.